This is not the column about coming home for Thanksgiving that I planned. A few hours after I put my column - and myself - to bed on Friday night, my father woke me up. “Get dressed, there’s a fire” was his elaborate explanation for the early-morning rousing. Over the course of the ensuing day, we watched the ominous clouds of billowing black and red smoke wax and wane as the flames came closer to us, receded, and returned with a vengeance. You see, my childhood home is in Malibu, just a few miles away from the canyons and crevices where 49 friends, neighbors, and fellow residents lost their homes to what eventually came to be called the Corrall Fire, last Saturday.
My mother and I spent most of the morning in the parking lot of our small, local supermarket, just a few short blocks away from the canyon in which our house is nestled. As she frantically resumed her sometimes role of freelance news producer for our local NBC affiliate, I tagged along in an amateur associate producer capacity, gathering anecdotes and information from whomever we could find. Meanwhile, my phone buzzed anxiously every few minutes with more information from friends, neighbors, and family members looking to swap stories, share facts, and make sure that everyone was still safe.
After many hours of frantic, on-the-fly information-gathering and doling out heartfelt hugs and whatever help we could offer to friends whose own flaming hillsides had forced them to seek refuge in the same lot, my phone rang yet again. It was my father, and with his characteristic verboseness, he said simply, “We’re being evacuated. Come home.”
As I was walking up the hill back to my house, I heard the sheriff’s bullhorns, like a bad B-movie, informing everyone that a mandatory evacuation of the area was taking place. We packed up the cars, hosed down the house, and were about to leave when my mom returned and insisted that the flames were far enough away-we were staying put and that was that. Even in the midst of a wildfire, no one wanted to reckon with my menopausal mom’s raging hormones.
The rest of the day was spent with our fellow stalwart neighbors, watching the news via satellite at the home of the only family that still had television-thanks to the utter ineptitude of Charter Cable, most Malibu residents lost both cable and Internet within a few minutes of the fire’s start - watching the WGA screeners my dad had recently received in the mail, and generally spending time together as a family and as a neighborhood. By the time night fell, we were thoroughly exhausted, completely starving, and desperate for a little relaxation.
So we did what any sane citizens would do when faced with a scary situation - we threw a party at our neighbor’s house. Everyone brought something, be it leftover green bean casserole from Thanksgiving, Prosecco from the pantry, chocolate chip cookies from the freezer, or latkes from my very own family’s coffers. We ate, we drank, and we commiserated. We shared stories and caught up on each other’s news, we listened to music and did whatever we could to distract one and other from the fact that the wind was picking up. It worked.
That night, we may have gone to bed with one eye open and one nostril poised to detect the permeating smell of smoke, but we did go to bed. We all got a little bit of peace out of our block party and a lot of comfort from each other’s companionship. And so I was inspired to amend my initial column. Home is more than just the place where your parents, your brothers, and your heroic dog - she was responsible for waking my parents up in the wee hours of Saturday morning with her smoke-induced barking - come together.
Home is where the parking lot is packed with people you know. Where hugs and help are held out without a second thought, where phones are ringing frantically because so many people want to make sure you’re okay. Home is where the only family in the neighborhood with satellite T.V. opens their doors, their couches, and their catalogue of Tivo-ed Project Runway episodes to the entire neighborhood.
Home is where the neighbors share their leftovers, their love, their state-of-the-art kitchens, and their back-of-the-freezer cans of cookie dough all in the interest of ensuring that nobody has to be anxious alone. Home is where the hills can be burning behind you, and the sirens and bullhorns wailing around you, and you still know that as long as the neighbors are sticking around, you’re going to be just fine.
This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful that everyone I know is safe, that the fire got contained so quickly, and that my family’s house is still standing. But the thing I’m most thankful for is not that the place is still there, but that the people are. Because, when it comes down to it, home is more than just a place I can go to during the holidays - it’s where the leftovers and the love are too.